With the big snow of a couple weeks ago that caused us to cancel services and our Puerto Rico Mission Trip Share Service last week—I feel the need to remind you that we just started our year-long focus on neighboring—with sermons designed to prepare ourselves to answer questions about our faith—the questions raised by our neighbors—co-workers—team-mates—class-mates.
And I think we should realize that questions about Christianity are nothing new. From the very early days people embraced several misconceptions that led them to question our faith.
- For example, in the first century many Romans believed Christians practiced INCEST.
Why you ask? Because in James 2:15 fellow Christians are referred to as “brothers and sisters” and Romans 16:15 encourages us to greet our siblings with a “holy kiss.”
- There were some who said Christians worshiped the head of a donkey
This came from an early Roman historian named Tacitus who said that when the Jews were released from slavery in Egypt and wandered in the desert—they often followed wild donkeys because these animals would lead them to water in hidden oases.That morphed into this odd belief about Christians.
Other misconceptions arose surrounding the meal we are about to share—communion—or the Lord’s Supper.
- For example, many believed Christians were cannibals because Jesus said, “Take and eat. This is My body broken for you.”
I can’t help but think of our Catholic brothers who mistakenly believe the bread and the wine of communion literally become the body and blood of Jesus—when we know the elements are just symbols. Jesus often used symbols to explain Who He was and why He had come. He said, “I am the true vine”— “I am the door”— “I am the Light of the World” and so on—but He wasn’t saying He was a literal vine or door or light. Those were symbols—in the same way that the bread and the cup are symbols.
But I digress
- Another misunderstanding by early critics are those who looked at communion and said Christianity was sorcery.
I say that because that phrase I just quoted “This is My body” — is “Hoc est corpus meum” in Latin—and it was later condensed to two form famous magic words, “Hocus pocus.”
Well, misconceptions about our faith—and this “meal” we share periodically have continued. Many people who are not Christians wonder why we gather to swallow little pieces of bread and wash it down with a mouthful of the fruit of the vine. So, this morning, as we continue our series on “Questions Neighbors Ask” let’s prepare ourselves to answer these queries. And I would encourage you to listen up—because a discussion about the symbolism behind the Lord’s Supper is a wonderful way to explain the main tenets of our faith.
For help, let’s turn to 1st Corinthians 11:23-29. If you are able, stand in respect as God’s Word is read. The Apostle Paul is speaking. He says.
23 – For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread,
24 – and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
25 – In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
26 – For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.
27 – So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.
28 – Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.
29 – For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.
Based on this passage and others in the Bible I can think of four reasons we share communion—four statements that will help explain this practice to our neighbors.
(1) First, sharing communion gives us an opportunity to look BACK.
As Jesus said the night He instituted this ordinance, “This is My body, which is for you…this cup is the new covenant in My blood; [eat this—drink this] in remembrance of Me.” So, one reason we share communion—and do so regularly—is to remind ourselves of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The broken bread—calls us to look back and remember that Jesus’ body was broken for us—broken by the nails that pierced His hands and feet and the spear that pierced His side. As we partake, we remember that His body was broken so that we could be forgiven and restored and made whole. The cup symbolizes His blood which leads us to look back and remember it was shed so our sins could be washed away. In short, this meal is a memory tool—a reminder that Jesus died for us.
And—of course we need to look back—we need to be reminded. As the hymn text puts it:
“Lest I forget Thy thorn-crowned brow, lead me to Calvary.
Lest I forget Gethsemane; Lest I forget Thine agony,
Lest I forget Thy love for me; lead me to Calvary”
We share communion because it leads us to Calvary. That memory motivates us to continue on in our Christian walk. It compels us to live for Him Who died for us.
In his recent book (2017) (Re)union, Bruxy Cavey writes:
“The Victoria Cross is Canada’s highest military honor, similar to the Medal of Honor in the United States. These medals are awarded for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. The first Victoria Cross of World War II was awarded to Company Sergeant-Major John Robert Osborn. The sergeant-major and his men were cut off from their battalion and under heavy attack. When the enemy came close enough, the Canadian soldiers were subjected to a concentrated barrage of grenades. Several times Osborn protected his men by picking up live grenades and throwing them back, but eventually one fell in just the wrong position to pick up in time. With only a split second to decide, Osborn shouted a warning and threw himself on top of the grenade. It exploded, killing him instantly. The rest of his company survived that battle because of Osborn’s selfless other-centeredness.”
I love stories of this kind of bravery and self-sacrifice. “Greater love hath no man than he lay down his life for his friends.”
I feel certain that, as a Christian, Osborn’s sacrifice for his men—was inspired by his understanding of Christ’s sacrifice for us all. This is why so many medals given for self-sacrifice are shaped like a CROSS. The crosses in Arlington are inspired by THE Cross. But I have to point out—as amazing and heroic an act Osborn’s was—it is just a pale reflection of what Jesus did. You see, soldiers who fall on grenades do so out of love for their friends while they are on the battlefield trying to kill their enemies. But communion invites us to LOOK BACK and remember that Jesus died on that cross for His friends, and His enemies, and for everyone in between. He died for you and me—for all mankind.
(2) Communion also provides us with an opportunity to LOOK IN.
As verse 28 says, “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.” So, you see, communion not only gives us a chance to remember WHAT Jesus did for us on the cross—but remember as individuals WHY He did it. It’s a time to ask God to search our hearts and point out our sin—thoughts and actions that are offensive to Him—attitudes and actions that hinder our relationship with Him. In these moments of looking in—that we confess those sins and experience the promise in 1st John 1:9—that because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, “He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
I remember years ago a vender sent me a new kind of communion cup in the hopes that we would buy them for use here at Redland. It was made of glass—so it was re-usable which would save us money. But it would also save us time because each cup had a little container built into the side where you could put the wafer. This means our deacons would only have to distribute once. It would cut in half the time required to celebrate communion. I mentioned the idea to several Redland members and I still remember their response. They basically said, “Thanks—but no thanks. We can afford the plastic cups. Money is not an issue. And—we don’t want to save time pastor. We need the time for examination—the time to LOOK IN and be reminded of our need for Jesus’ forgiveness.”
I loved their response and am thankful for it because cutting time would also cut out one of the main reasons we share this meal. Communion is a time of self-inspection—a time to look in and see anew our need for Jesus’ forgiveness. We don’t want to hide our sins under the rug—no, we need to bring them out into the light so we can ask God to deal with them. And communion gives us a regular opportunity to do that.
This week I read about a homeowner named Jerry who thirteen years ago was trying to figure out where he should put a hole in his wall for a TV cable. He came up with a unique idea to find exactly where the hole should be. Here’s how it worked. He went up to the second floor of his house and lowered his wife’s alarm clock on a string through an air vent. He set the alarm to go off ten minutes later thinking he could listen to it and get a good idea as to where to put the hole.
Things were going great until the string broke and the clock fell and tumbled—deep into the air vent system.
Well, they decided to just let it stay there. They’d ignore the clock. The clock wasn’t expensive, and they didn’t want to put any MORE holes in the wall—much less the vent system. But there was a problem. You see, the alarm kept going off every night at the same time. Lynn had thought that surely the batteries in the clock would die soon—but each night he and his wife would be treated to about a minute of beeping that could be heard from any room on the first floor. I guess the batteries were DURACELL because they kept going and going and going—day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Lynn said at first they didn’t mind the beeping—but they decided after 13 years enough was enough. And so, Lynn followed the sound and broke a hole in the wall, cut into the air vent, and removed the clock.
Well, communion is a reminder that we don’t do with our sin what this couple did with this alarm clock—We don’t ignore it—no, we look in—we examine ourselves. We LOOK IN.
We ask God to poke a hole in our lives and reveal the sin that so easily besets us.
(3) Another reason we share communion is to LOOK AROUND.
As Paul says in our text, this meal is a chance for us to be reminded of our responsibly to share the Gospel with our neighbors—as we “proclaim the Lord’s death.” One of Communion’s purposes is to prod us remember the Great Commission—remember Jesus’ command that we GO and TELL others that He died on a cross and why—so that they too can decide to follow Him. Sadly, too many Christians don’t do this. Evangelism should be central to their every day lives—but too often it is not.
I got a kick out of an article that recently appeared in The Huffington Post. In it readers are encouraged—charged to—NOT shy away from talking about one particular topic. They are urged to talk to others about: CLIMATE CHANGE. I don’t want to take pulpit time to address this divisive issue—but it amazed me how bold the author of the article was. His instructions on how to talk about climate change sounded very much like the kinds of things you’d hear in evangelism training. For example. His first recommendation: MAKE IT PERSONAL. His second: APPEAL TO THEIR HUMANITY. Third: EMPLOY SOME COST/BENEFIT ANALYSIS. To convince the “non-believers” in the climate change debate, the author urges readers to show how the path the world is on now not only costs people money—but pain, suffering, and ultimately human lives. The argument would then demonstrate that the costs of ignoring the issue outweigh the benefits, hopefully initiating a change of heart. The article is titled “How To Talk To Your Climate Change-Denying Relatives This [Holiday Season] (Yes, You Can!).” The subtitle fits the tone of the article as well: “Constructive dialogue is more important today than perhaps ever before.”
Does that sound like witness training or what?! Well, one purpose of communion is to remind us that constructive/respectful dialogue about Jesus is more important than ever before. If the world can be passionate about talking about climate change—surely we can be passionate about sharing the gospel. We should leave a communion service with a greater understanding of how urgent the need is for us to share our faith—to proclaim Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Here’s one other purpose of communion.
(4) It challenges us to LOOK AHEAD.
Jesus said we partake of the bread and the cup, “until He come again.” And of course, He will.
Do you remember what the angels said to the disciples as they looked up at Jesus as He ascended into Heaven. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, Who has been taken from you into Heaven—will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into Heaven.”
Communion reminds us to prepare for that wonderful day when our Lord will come back to take us home. We should always be READY for Jesus.
Author Doug Mendenhall once wrote a brief parable that helps us in our thinking about this. He writes:
“Jesus called the other day to say He was passing through and [wondered if] He could spend a day or two with us. I said, ‘Sure. Love to see You. When will You hit town?’ I mean, it’s Jesus, you know, and it’s not every day you get the chance to visit with Him. It’s not like it’s your in-laws and you have to stop and decide whether the advantages outweigh your having to move to the sleeper sofa. That’s when Jesus told me He was actually at a convenience store out by the interstate.I must have gotten that Bambi-in-headlights look, because my wife hissed, ‘What is it? What’s wrong? Who is that?’ So, I covered the receiver and told her Jesus was going to arrive in eight minutes, and she ran out of the room and started giving guidance to the kids—in that effective way that Marine drill instructors give guidance to recruits. My mind was already racing with what needed to be done in the next eight—no seven—minutes so Jesus wouldn’t think we were reprobate loser slobs. I turned off the TV in the den, which was blaring some weird scary movie I’d been half watching. But I could still hear screams from our bedroom, so I turned off the reality show it was tuned to. Plus, I turned off the WI-FI—I didn’t want our kids with their noses in their smart phones when Jesus arrived—six minutes from now. My wife had already thinned out the magazines that had been accumulating on the coffee table. She put Christianity Today on top for a good first impression. Five minutes to go. I looked out the front window, but the yard actually looked great thanks to my long, hard work, so I let it go. What could I improve in four minutes anyway? I did notice the mail had come, so I ran out to grab it. Mostly a bunch of catalogs tied into recent purchases, so I stuffed it back in the box. Jesus doesn’t need to get the wrong idea—three minutes from now—about how much on-line shopping we do. I ran back in and picked up a bunch of shoes left by the door. I tried to stuff them in the front closet, but it was overflowing with heavy coats and work coats and snow coats and pretty coats and raincoats and extra coats. We live in the South; why’d we buy so many coats? I squeezed the shoes in with two minutes to go. I plumped up sofa pillows, my wife tossed dishes into the sink, I scolded the kids, and she shooed the dog. With one minute left I realized something important: Getting ready for a visit from Jesus is not an eight-minute job. Then the doorbell rang.”
It’s not an eight-minute job is it? No—it’s a lifestyle. And communion reminds us of this. It prompts us to live with eyes focused on the future to the day Jesus will return—to strive to live in such a way that we are always ready for that day to dawn.
Now—as we share communion let’s all look back—and in—and around—and ahead. I want to invite all Christians present to partake with us. For—even if you are not a member of this church. If you are a Christian…if you are His, this is Yours. Before we begin—let’s all stop—bow our heads—and LOOK IN. Let’s ask God to shine the light of His truth on our hearts and lives—and show us our error—our sins. Then let us confess all that. In a few moments I’ll close our prayer time.
THE ORDINANCE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
Some of our neighbors may also wonder why we have a hymn of invitation at the end of our services. It’s to give us a chance to respond to God’s leading. This is particularly true in a communion service. Looking back—well—that look shows a person present his or her need for the forgiveness only Jesus makes possible. If that’s you—claim it—ask Jesus to forgive you—Commit to follow Him as Lord. And leave your seat to come forward and share that decision with me or Kevin. Some of you may have looked in and seen something you know God doesn’t like. Your response should be to repent of that sin—you may want to come forward and ask Kevin or me to pray with you. Others may have looked around and need to commit to share your faith with a neighbor. Some may realize you need a church home—a place where you can grow in Christlikeness and join with other believers in working to get ready for Jesus’ return. So—as we sing—let’s all respond.